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Ellen Anne Eddy
Author of Thread Magic: The Enchanted World of Ellen Anne Eddy Fiber artist, author and teacher
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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Musings: Art outside the box: Dyeing for color

In a world with millions of bolts of fabric, why is it I still drag myself out to the dye studio once a month and dye 50 yards of cotton? I've had numerous people tell me how fun that sounded. They usually feel  a bit differently about it after around 10 yards of dyeing in class. They adore their fabric, but no one is pretending this isn't pretty backbreaking work. Liking having a baby, when it all comes out, you forget just how much work it was.

I'm a relic of the 70s, someone who was quilting from 1975. Fabric choices then were left over fashion choices. There was no real quilt industry or real quilt fabric. There were some serious holes in the color wheel. These changed with the seasons and the fashions. There were no purples in the 70s, no oranges or brights in the eighties, and no choices in yellows until the early 90s. And there were never ever enough grays. So early on, I began to dye my fabrics, first in gradations, and later in light source fabric that's signature for me now.Quilting fabric began to come in by the mid 80s, but by then, I was able to dye what I needed.

I think the real truth is that we all see color so differently, that I'm disappointed by other people's vision. They tell us that color vision is very individual. The extreme end is color blindness, but it's clear people don't see the same things.

I've always had a good color eye. That doesn't mean that I understood color when I was starting. I simply was able to see it well enough to choose well. I began to study color theory when I was asked to to a color lecture. After several hours in the library, listening to what appeared to be male silliness like color formulas, charts, color tone symphonies, etc. I simply called the recipes and called the lecture The Color Cookbook.  Since then, I've spent a lot of time learning to codify the choices I make by nature, to explain them to students. We forget that color theory is only a theory. It's a work in process. We know it fails us from time to time and we're still looking for a better way to describe how it works.

The fabrics I dye are sponge dyed. They're designed to create a small universe of their own, a perfect world for one of my creatures. Many people prize them for appliqué and piecing as well, but that's my usual intent. So I build in a light source, shadows to weight the piece, flowers in the dye, trees in the shading. It's also an art by accident. I have some control, but not over everything. If I dye for a particular reason, I'll dye a piece 3 times to get the one I want. And sometimes need to go back to try again.

Why? The colors created with fiber reactive dyes are strong, vibrant, color fast and exquisite. They're not limited to only brights or pastels, although it can do both. And every piece of art I start, starts with a unique piece of art in the fabric alone.


So why did I start dyeing threads? Similar reasons. Almost all of the earlier variegated threads are in rainbow colors. Who over the age of 3 1/2 wants a rainbow colored anything? They stipple well, but they're impossible for shading imagery.  Many of the new variegated threads have stretched past that. But they don't know how to create a thread to shade an image.
It's not that hard. Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Every image has a dark, a medium and a light. Along the way it should have shaders to weight the piece and shockers to wake up the viewer. I've dyed pearl cottons now for over 10 years to get that ability to shade an image to my liking.

I've started doing bobbin weight thread kits for The Cotton Club with patterns and threads designed to make shading easy and fun. You can join the club and get a new project with instructions each month.Check them out  at www.cottonclub.com


So why do I dye clothes? Well there is the great cycle of dye. You wear it. You spot it. You dye it. You wear it until it's dead. Then you wear it to dye things in.

But truly, it's a diet secret.The first time I dyed a dress for myself, I wore it to a gallery shoot. I blended right into my work. The photos showed a very pretty disembodied head among the quilts. It was like I'd lost 150 pounds. Now who wouldn't like that?

I swore I'm done being a victim. At least never a fashion victim. Fashions can come and go, but since I dye my own I  always have the colors I live and breathe in, waiting for me.
Ellen Anne Eddy's Dye Day Workbook is available at
www.ellenanneeddy.com
Ellen Anne Eddy's Hand-dyed Thread Club is available for order at
www.cottonclub.com


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